The farm-to-table concept has gained significant popularity in the past couple of years. However, if one seeks the exact definition of this idea, the answer is not cut-and-dried. There are different approaches to this concept, but it ideally comes down to the food prepared using locally sourced or homegrown produce. The ingredients are essentially grown naturally and organically. Even though there aren’t any set guidelines or system that can be used to declare restaurants as farm-to-table, many claim that they follow the farm-to-table philosophy in their kitchens.
There are quite a few factors behind the growing popularity of this approach. The farm-to-table concept has nutritional benefits and is environment-friendly. Also known as farm-to-fork, this model of preparing and consuming food is in sync with the healthy food revolution around the world.
The proper introduction of the trend can be traced back to the 1960s and ’70s America. An important contribution came from the acclaimed chef Alice Waters. She was the first to use produce from local farms at her restaurant Chez Panisse, in Barkeley, California, which she opened in 1971. Waters found this produce fresher and more flavourful than the preserved produce used by other restaurants. As Chef Waters found fame, the movement continued to grow steadily towards the end of 20th century in America. It spread to India and other parts of Asia by the beginning of the 21st century.
Today, many restaurants and cafés in India serve farm-to-table delicacies, because of the related health benefits as well as the low cost of fresh produce.
Gauri Devidayal, director of The Table Farm and the owner of The Table in Mumbai, told Guardian 20, “The movement is about knowing what you’re consuming—not just what is on your plate, but from where the ingredients are being sourced. It also entails knowing whether they are being grown in a wholesome and sustainable manner. The trend has been around for some time in the West, especially in California, where it is a way of life, especially when it comes to restaurants. It took a while for the ideology to reach Indian shores, but there is considerable awareness about it now.”
Devidayal’s The Table is among the first restaurants in Mumbai which started using fresh farm produce, grown at their own farm. The restaurant has played a major role in the recognition and acceptance of the practice in the city.
This green movement is influencing chefs and restaurant owners in other cities, too. Many have established their own farms to ensure quality produce for their restaurants. This system in particular is becoming the backbone of many high-end restaurants and luxury hotels. Chef Shyam Rai, who is the culinary designer of Pullman and Novotel New Delhi, Aerocity, pointed out that they have introduced the concept of farm-to-table at their restaurant, Pluck, for which they source material from their own garden. “Modern and contemporary European dishes provide a satisfying culinary experience to our diners with delightful creations that are made from freshly plucked greens of our in-house vegetable and herb garden,” he said. At Pluck, each day different sets of dishes are served according to the availability of homegrown produce.
Global celebrities have also been promoting the farm-to-table movement. Australian cricketer Mathew Hayden, who has written The Complete Mathew Hayden Cookbook, revealed that he has converted a major portion of his land into a garden. He uses the garden’s produce for his culinary creations. Another star, Chef Jamie Oliver, once announced on his show—Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals—that the rosemary he used in the main course was from his garden. He also advised his viewers to plant herbs and vegetables to get the freshest produce for cooking the best of his recipes.
Apart from celebrity chefs endorsing the movement and restaurants embracing the concept, artists and filmmakers have also played a major role in popularising this practice. The 2009 Oscar-nominated documentary The Garden, and other movies like A Place at the Table and The Future of Food have helped to create awareness.
With the farm-to-fork culture gaining momentum in India, the demand for fresh produce has increased. Small eateries and home chefs are also adopting this approach now. This would surely be good for our health, for the economy and for the environment in the long run.